Of all the people that Charles Xavier would have expected to arrive on his doorstep at four in the morning, it was not Tony Stark.
'I can feel everything.' Was all the boy said, only fourteen years old if the papers were to be believed.
Later, it was discovered that young Tony Stark was the most powerful empath anyone had ever seen. It was only a few months after that it was discovered what he could do to other people.
Charles often thought that the physical form was far, far too idolised in comparison to that of the mind. After all — what was the use of muscle when you were sobbing on the floor from a single touch of a fingertip?
That was what Tony could do. That was what made Tony such a brilliant businessman, even without actively using his mutation. He knew emotion, expanded on it, created it, diminished it and by God did he use it.
Charles had never experienced something as breathtaking as the mind of a man who knew the way every human being ticked.
Tony became one of the founding members of the X-Men — after the first disastrous attempt in the sixties. Not that he ever fought, or received a mutant name, but he had a suit, and was present in the back of Charles' mind every time the team went away to fight. Tony was always watching, always keeping a careful eye.
He was always invited to their meetings, to the school. It was then that Charles truly appreciated Tony's skills in the art of excuse making.
Their correspondence was a secret, and Charles could never blame him for keeping what he could do a secret from everyone except Charles. It would cause the next Wall Street Crash, Tony had said with a laugh, even though Charles didn't need his own telepathy to distinguish what he was really thinking.
Howard Stark made Charles' stomach turn, with his talk of abominations and unnaturalness, especially in front of his own son, and especially because he neglected that son to try and find a relic he had pumped full of chemicals.
When Afghanistan happened, Charles watched and searched from the sidelines, yet found nothing. His fellow teachers said nothing about his weariness — but he knew they were putting it down to old age.
What a lovely idea, to die of old age.
It was not until four years later, that Charles and Tony met face to face again. It was a pity about the audience.
Tony fiddled with the disassembled tablet he was holding, carelessly discarding the unimportant pieces on the table in front of him while he heard the murmured annoyance from whoever else was sat with him.
'Tony, stop before Clint puts an arrow through your eye,' glancing up after Natasha spoke, Tony saw a coolly irritated Clint flicking a minuscule screw from his jacket. He glared at him vehemently. Either way, Tony didn't take it too seriously — he could feel the amusement slowly filling the air around him.
Natasha turned her head abruptly, as if she was waiting for something. Sure enough, her precognition was spot on; Fury barged through the door in a crescendo of noise, and though no one in the room jumped, Tony could feel their surprise hidden beneath their unmoved exterior.
Fury was, strangely, worried and tense. Usually, he was confident and angry and just a little bit more laid back when around the team.
Even Steve's emotions stood to attention when Fury spoke, and Tony sniggered.
'Mutants,' he said, making eye contact with all of them, even though when he came to Bruce the smallest slither of guilt seeped out of him. 'They're our problem now.'
'How so?' Steve asked, brow creasing into a confused frown. Natasha looked at him.
'He hasn't made it past the seventies yet, Director.' Steve looked bashful. 'You might have to elaborate.'
'He got a bit caught up in the Cold War,' Tony injected, looking up from his phone, dismembered tablet littering the conference table. 'Couldn't get past the politics.'
Steve's shoot of annoyance and then acceptance ran through him, but neither he nor Tony said anything.
Impatiently, Fury rolled his eyes. 'Everyone hated all mutants, then only some people hated mutants, and now everybody hates about a quarter of mutants.'
'There's a mutant group called the Brotherhood that believe mutants should rule over humans,' Bruce elaborated quietly, putting his pen behind his ear as he always did when nervous.
Tony remained quiet and still, only his thumbs moving as he pretended to type code. He could not and would not get involved in mutant stuff, he wouldn't let his little trick be revealed. He was perfectly content to let everyone carry on thinking that his power was a large inheritance, thank you very much.
'Why are they our problem now?' Clint asked, uncomfortable. 'I thought they kept to themselves. I thought they wanted to keep to themselves.'
Fury stood, holding the edge of his chair as he did so. The window behind him, which was without a doubt some kind of apocalypse-proof glass, was transformed into a knock-off version of Tony's own holographic screens. Huh.
Pictures of the destruction wrought by the Brotherhood's attack on some town near to Xavier's school that Charles had already told Tony about blinked, annoyingly swift, into existence. Fury was anxious, and as he turned to the team, a sense of foreboding filled him as he set eye upon Tony.
Ah. That would be Howard's ever-so-loving legacy of mutant hating. Stark Industries had never quite been able to shake that image, and consequently had never had any mutant applicants to hire to get rid of the stigma.
And Fury thought Tony had inherited that view. It was almost laughable — almost, if it weren't for the severe daddy issues and general other-people-issues that it had left Tony.
'The Brotherhood have attacked a load of towns close to Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters — otherwise known as the world's only school exclusively for mutants. Nothing too serious; couple of blown up buildings, minor casualties. But, Magneto and his guys are getting closer and closer, and Xavier's asking for some help. He's got a hell of a lot of kids to protect and not enough people to do so.'
The team looked at each other, each assessing the other. Natasha looked cool and collected, game face on as she accepted the mission. Protect the kids, guard the school. But really? She was just a little bit scared of being surrounded by people who could easily overpower her, no matter her tricks or her Widow's Bites. Clint mirrored her feelings, with some kind of child-like curiosity edging it, anticipating the revelations of people who could perform all manner of nonsensical tricks — no wonder he ran away to the circus.
Bruce was hesitant and worried, at the thought of being surrounded by small, helpless human beings that would be as fragile as porcelain to the Hulk. It was written all over his face, too, one of the beauties of Bruce. Tony was used to polar opposite faces and emotions, but Bruce was all parallels. Steve held nothing but an undercurrent of anger at the thought of some group attacking children, the righteousness rolling off him in waves, and a dash of curiosity and concern. He felt interested, yet far, far out of his depth.
Tony himself was a kaleidoscope of different feelings. He was worried that he was going be found out, cautious that he was going to do it himself, overjoyed and anxious simultaneously at the thought of seeing Charles for the first time in years, a feeling of longing that had never quite left him, anyway, since he had helped create the X-Men, but never fought alongside them. If there were any regrets in his life — and there should be quite a few — that was one of them.
And then, there was the overpowering fear of confronting the part of his life that he had kept hidden from anyone and everything, the very building that was almost the material representation of his fear. It was too much — but Tony was never a coward, and he would fight his own demons a hundred times over, willingly, if it meant nobody would ever find out about about his … gift.
It was only when Fury spoke cuttingly to Tony that he managed to pull himself out of the vacuum of everyone else's and his own emotions.
'Is this going to be a problem for you, Stark?'
Oh. Apparently, the whole team was staring at him. Tony scrambled for a reply. 'No,' he said, deceptively easy with a raised eyebrow. 'Why should it be?'
Fury shook his head, and Bruce spoke up, fiddling with the cuff of his shirt anxiously. 'We all know about Stark Industries' history with mutant rights. It isn't pretty.'
'What happened?' Steve asked quickly. 'What does Stark Industries have against mutants?'
Tony turned in his seat, decision made. He smiled. 'Mutants are historically volatile — they're a liability, especially in weapons manufacturing. Steal their lunch and poof, there goes the plant.'
The disappointment rolled off of them all in waves. Even Fury.
Tony had never felt such an all-encompassing shame.
'You are repulsive,' Natasha spat as she stood abruptly and left the room.
It was nigh on unbearable, being in such an enclosed space with people that felt so hostile towards him. It seemed to seep into the very metal of the jet, eclipsing all other feeling that might have occurred. It gave Tony a headache.
He had never before wished so much to be enclosed in the suit; to be out of sight and mind to them, to fly by himself and without having to feel their confused and disappointed and angry glares on him for the duration.
The flight wasn't long — barely forty minutes — but it felt like a lifetime.
'ETA five minutes, guys,' Clint called from the front, piloting the jet. 'Cap, just got a message from Xavier — non-offensive arrival. Doesn't want to freak out the kids. No shield.'
Steve nodded, and tucked his shield under his seat. He looked at Tony, and his mild expression turned sour with a scowl.
'That means Iron Man too, Stark,' He ground out, while Bruce looked at Tony through soft but yet somehow unyielding eyes.
'You know, Tony, I really wouldn't have put you down as the prejudiced type.'
Tony shrugged, and Bruce looked down. Tony wished he could say something, anything, just to get rid of the abject disappointment from Bruce.
Refusing to look out of the small window to his right, Tony relied on the quiet commentary of Natasha, acting as copilot, as they gradually landed. His blood pumping, the soft and clean touchdown onto the manicured grass seemed to reverberate throughout his body, and as the gentle vibrations of the plane ceased, he realised that it was not the jet making his hands tremble.
Unbuckling themselves, the team rose, straightening their rumpled clothing, Tony joining them by righting his tie and making sure the lapels of his suit were as sharply cut as they were when he first put them on. The wide door opened onto a grassy plain, and Tony refused to look beyond it to see the people that stood there. The people that should have been his team — could have been his team, once upon a time.
The steps came down, and Tony's team, his present, current and only team, began to dismount from the jet. Tony went to join them, but a petite yet dangerous hand gripped his shoulder painfully.
Natasha forcefully turned Tony to face diagonally, her face close to his as she whispered. 'Don't you dare do anything against those children,' she leant back, 'they get enough at home. I will not have you endangering their safety here.'
'Safety?' Tony spluttered, eyes widening with the growing sincerity of Natasha. 'What the hell do you think I am?'
The grip on his shoulder was released as Natasha turned to leave. She turned her head and looked him in the eye, intensifying her emotion. 'We'll see.' She replied after a pause, assessing.
Tony was motionless for a moment, struck by the harshness of her. Then he moved.
The rest of the team were talking with the X-Men; dressed down and looking nowhere near as intimidating as they had done on the footage Tony had seen previously, and from what Charles had sent him. There were many of them; all with different appearances, some of which made it evident that their mutation was a physical one.
Striding over, Tony saw Steve casting a shadow over Charles, and he felt an overwhelming need to see the man who had provided him with his first, truly accepted home. He edged around Steve, and stood so close to him that he was forced to move out of the way. 'Tony,' Steve hissed, but Tony ignored him, though he felt a slither of happiness that he was being called by his first name.
'Professor Xavier,' Tony said, a real smile on his face as he felt similar happiness from Charles. Charles looked up at him, with an almost emotional expression, though he was clearly trying to mask it.
'Mr. Stark,' Charles replied, shaking the offered hand from Tony. At his touch, Tony felt a surge of beautiful expression and emotion from Charles, and consequently everyone Charles had come near in the last four years. It was so vast and yet so intimate, the feeling of the very heart of a person split open to Tony as if it were his own personal diary to peruse at his leisure. The intensity of the flood forced him to close his eyes for an unknown amount of time, smile softened at his lips as the familiarity and wonder of seeing Charles and of truly, fully utilising his mutation came back to him for the first time in years.
Charles, knowing what had happened, simply smiled in that frustratingly elusive way of his —apparently, only a second or two had passed.
'Please, call me Tony,' Tony said, regretfully letting go of Charles' hand. 'Mr. Stark's my father, and we all know how much he isn't welcome here.'
Steve sucked in a sharp breath from behind Tony, and the rest of the congregation turned to stare at him. Never uncomfortable in the spotlight that had stalked him since birth, Tony concentrated wholly on Charles, because if he were honest, it was only his opinion that really, truly mattered to him.
'Indeed,' Charles chuckled in that way of his, manoeuvring his wheelchair that Tony had built for him — but probably needed an upgrade by now — over to the others. 'Here, let me introduce you to the team,'
Following the soft whirring sound, they crossed the gap between themselves and the others. The mutants straightened, and looked ready for some kind of fight at his approach. Wariness almost oozed off of them, which was similar to the Avengers' — though they were also, heart-warmingly, worried for Tony too.
'This is Ororo Munroe,' Charles said, gesturing to a dark skinned woman with short, bright white hair. She was soft and accepting, with a hard nearly unnoticeable edge to her. She was welcoming, yet worried.
Tony shook her hand as Charles went on. 'Next to her in Jean Grey, and Scott Summers — all three are some of my teachers here.'
Smiling, Tony shook the hands of both of them; Jean a pretty petite woman, with Scott standing protective and slightly in front of her, with brown hair and a ruby coloured visor across his eyes. Both were on edge and holding back something, though what Tony couldn't tell.
All three murmured a greeting, seeming hesitant — though Tony could hardly blame them and was, in fact, quite surprised at their generally kind greeting of him. He wasn't sure he would be equally as courteous if he were in their position.
A small cluster of what were perhaps teenagers stood off to the side, emulating the normal kind of uncertainty and general insecurity Tony felt from teenagers universally.
'And here we have Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Warren Worthington and Bobby Drake.' Kitty was a jumpy, small girl, with a cheery face and unfailing optimism — but she was also a realist, who saw more than most because of her happy exterior. Rogue was all darkness and sharp edges with mistrust and sadness clouding over all other emotions; Bobby was anything but, his feelings defined and to the point; anger at injustice and wariness at the unknown. Warren, however, posed an interesting character when faced with Tony. He was angry and scared, mostly, and his face showed just that, eyes wide and jaw straight and heavy as he looked at Tony.
'Hey, Worthington,' Tony said, a stroke of memory befalling him. 'Your dad that, uh, guy? Industrialist? Not nice?'
Warren's smile was twisted, and his large jacket despite the mild weather twitched. 'Yeah, you got him. Guy who thinks mutants are diseased.'
Tony frowned, and turned to look at Charles. Charles looked at him regretfully, sadness enveloping him.
'Thought you'd be on his side, bub,' a gravelly voice came from behind Tony. The man it came from matched his voice perfectly; he wore worn clothes and had an abundance of hair, a perpetual scowl on his face and a cigar that wasn't even lit glued to his fingers. 'We all know what the Stark's think of mutants.'
The air seemed to turn cold as the rugged newcomer spoke. Tony turned fully, facing up to him.
'Yeah, well, I'm not my father.' Tony replied coolly, rolling his shoulders. He looked back to Charles. 'I'm sorry, who's this guy?'
Charles looked at both of them in the same way a headmaster would at two misbehaving children. 'Tony, this is Logan. Logan, Tony.'
Logan looked Tony up and down in a way that was uncomfortable and angered him, almost as much as the amount of anger Logan was emitting, animalistic and raw.
'You're the one with the metal suit,' he said, as the others uneasily went back to their idle small talk. Only Charles and the teenagers carried on watching their exchange.
'Yes,' Tony replied solidly, bitingly, feeling guarded and protective of himself. The brief echo of a warning filled with worry appeared momentarily in the back of Tony's mind, and he made an effort to reel in his effect on others. Apparently, he was making them twitchy.
'Sorry to break it to you, but I don't think that fancy suit of yours is gonna be much use against a guy who can bend metal.' Logan looked pleased and felt vindictive.
Curling like smoke, Tony had to choke back a retort that would have destroyed everything he had kept a secret ever since he was fourteen years old. Instead, he settled for a charming, preying grin and a dangerous glimmer in his eye.
'Well, I've got a few tricks up my sleeve.'
There was amusement from Charles and confusion from everyone else. Tony didn't care.
To the confusion of everybody else and the happiness of Tony, Charles asked him to come to his office once they had finished their dinner in the main hall with the rest of the staff and students.
'Sure,' Tony had replied, making an effort to look confused at the way he was singled out, enjoying the inside joke himself and Charles had shared since he was fourteen and scared and desperate and lost.
The office was everything Tony remembered and so very Charles. It was old wood and old money, unyielding yet with bumps and nicks that made the furniture inviting and warm. Deep bookshelves and thick curtains, both well cared for and well used, the books worn but loved. The floorboards were marred with the odd stain here and there, and the odd gap that opened the bottom of the room into who knew what, with scratches both shallow and deep — the room was just as Tony had remembered it, and there was even evidence of his own presence in the gouge mark where he had flung some kind of heavy, antique box years upon years ago.
'Tony,' Charles said warmly, sitting not behind his desk but beside it, in order to be closer to Tony, something that made Tony's poor little needy heart soar. 'It's good to have you back.'
'You too,' Tony choked out, almost winded with the feeling of belonging. 'I'm sorry we haven't spoken in a while. There's been … a lot.'
'I know,' Charles replied, hands clasped in his lap, relaxed. 'The Avengers … you'd have to be living under a rock not to have heard of them.'
'No, I mean … after Afghanistan, I should have visited, I should have done something —'
'Oh, Tony,' Charles said, a swelling of guilt coming from him that was completely unfounded and horrible. 'I should have come to you. You were held captive in a cave, Tony, to go on social visits after that — and that thing in your chest —' He stopped, looking distraught. 'I have been a terrible friend, Tony. A horrible one.'
Tony could not even begin to comprehend how Charles had reached that conclusion, let alone confess to Charles how very wrong he was. Before he could even make a noise of disgruntlement, Charles spoke again, face changed and looking almost completely different from a moment previously — though Tony knew better. Of course.
'I need to know what you're planning on doing about your mutation — no, Tony, no one can hear us. You proofed this room, remember?' Tony felt embarrassed by his reaction; head looking around urgently, panicked expression and protest on his lips. Charles simply smiled. 'But — your mutation. Clearly, nobody knows. Tony …' Seriousness filled the room, suffocating him. 'You are going to, inevitably, come up against Erik. Magneto. What will you do, Tony? He is a manipulator of metal, the master of it, how could you possibly stand a chance?'
The question was left hanging in the air, and this time Tony could not explain away his thoughts. He could not talk his way out of this as he had for so many things previously.
'I don't know,' he said nonchalantly, zoning in on the carpet beneath his feet. 'Maybe a coat of plastic would do it. Something durable, but still —'
'The man used the iron out of a living man's blood to escape prison, Tony. Please, don't humour me. Don't think so little of me that you assume you shall be able to worm your way out of this as you have before. Don't think I don't know why you haven't come and fought with me beforehand. Don't make me say it aloud, Tony.'
Thoroughly cowed and truly scared, Tony's gaze finally, reluctantly, drifted up to Charles'. His oldest friend, the man who had given him the love and support where everyone else in his life had sadly neglected. There was so much empathy in those eyes that Tony nearly wept.
'Your time has come, Tony. You must tell them. All of them. You cannot hide the greatest part of yourself forever.'
'The greatest part,' Tony repeated, nearly snarling. 'It's not great, Charles, it's a curse, a burden, whatever other dramatic word you can think of for something that I do not want.'
Charles sighed. 'Tony —'
'No!' Tony turned on his heel, standing anxious and unsure eight feet away from the man. 'I hate it. I feel everything, if I want to or not, and I don't want it. I'm tired of hiding, Charles, but I don't want to see their faces, anyone's faces, when they know I've been messing with their heads, that I know them and that I will always know them. I want it to stop.' He sat, suddenly exhausted, collapsing into the chair like a dead weight.
'I don't want it anymore, Charles. I don't know what to do.'
He couldn't bear to see Charles' face, he did not want the pity that was so obviously going to be there. Tony simply wanted to go.
'There comes a point in everyone's life, Tony, where we must choose our own direction. We have to make our own choices, and decide when we want certain things to come to light. Otherwise, we may not have the option of choice. We may be forced to reveal ourselves.' Charles paused, forcing Tony to look up before he would continue. His face and feelings were blissfully blank, and Tony struggled to remember the wonderful feeling of using his power he had had earlier that day. It seemed like a distant memory; too good to last, before the reality of his mutation came back to him.
'Let you decide for you, Tony, because otherwise it might be too late.'
When Tony returned to his room, he found Bruce waiting for him. 'What did Xavier have to say?' He questioned.
'Something about the security fittings,' Tony replied.
In the light of day, Tony felt considerably more light hearted and receptive to the nostalgia that followed him at every step. It hardly even had an affect on him, the way that the considerably inflated student population whispered and pointed and hid every time he walked past.
He didn't need to hear or see them — he could feel their presence just fine.
The dining hall was just as he remembered it; old, wooden and as imposing to walk into this time as it had been the first. The rows of tables and chairs that filled the room — making it oddly dense for Tony, who had last seen it vast and nearly empty — were occupied with children of all ages. There were some that hardly looked like they had entered Middle School, whereas some could be mistaken for college students.
One thing that had remained a constant through the years was the teachers' table, though now it was much more populated. One notable addition was a man completely covered in bright blue fur. Tony felt he should know him, somehow.
Tony walked through the rapidly silencing hall, the aisle in the middle feeling more like death row than the ten second walk it really was. He passed the small group of teenagers that he had seen and spoken to yesterday; they smiled hesitantly as their friends looked on curiously. The teachers' table, with its spare seat on Charles' right and Steve's left was very much welcome.
Shuffling into his seat, Tony dived for some food to quell the silence. The volume of the hall, though not quite extinguished by his entrance, picked up again to its previous volume. Steve turned to talk to Natasha, who laughed at what he said, and Charles turned to Tony.
'Have you had time to think about last night?'
'Jesus,' Tony replied. 'Are you going to give me detention if I say no?' Charles merely held Tony's gaze, intense and ponderous.
Sighing, Tony put down his fork. 'Fine; yes. And I may have overreacted. And yes, I know I have to tell them. Everyone. Just — I need time.'
'I wish I could give you all the time in the world, Tony, but Magneto is coming … I'm not going to echo what I said last night, but you know.'
'Why the rush? Who says I need to tell them before Magneto crawls out of the woodwork?' Charles looked at him, feeling unimpressed. 'Okay, fine. Maybe the metal suit answers that question.'
'I'm not going to repeat everything that I said last night, I trust your memory serves you well.' He picked up his knife and fork delicately, as if they had feelings. Which Tony knew, of course, that they didn't. 'Besides, we need to talk about updating the security systems.'
'Now we're talking,' a swell of delight in Tony mirrored that in Charles' though he felt happy for a different reason, one that Tony couldn't quite place. 'I was thinking about that before I came here, and I think the answer might be in Silicon and Graphite. Both are conductors of electricity, you know? Well, kind of in the first case, but whatever — you can't have a security system without electricity and considering the main conductor is metal, we're in a bit of a situation, like, I don't know, Steve here faced with Barney the Purple Dinosaur,' Tony grinned and turned his head to look at Steve, who was still talking with a mildly confused yet interested Natasha about something old and dated from his childhood.
'I take it you need a place to work, then.' Charles said with a smile, amusement evident as he looked at Tony.
'Would be handy, yeah,' Tony agreed, standing as Charles moved to exit his position. He glanced over to Storm, who had been sitting on his other side.
'Would you be able direct Doctor Banner down to the labs once you've both finished your meals, Ororo?' She smiled warmly, nodding, with that familial feeling oozing from her as usual, a fluttering of warmth that she had been asked.
Tony was led through countless hallways, some of which even he had never seen before, before reaching an unassuming dark-wood door. Charles tapped in a code on a keypad that was to the right of the door, and scanned a fingerprint into a small and old fashioned pad next to the numbers.
'You really need a new security system,' Tony muttered, unheard by Charles, as a whirring noise followed the clicking of the number keys. The door slid, instead of opening as one would expect, with a quiet murmuring. The singular colour was an all-encompassing white; blinding and cleaner than anything Tony had ever seen. It was less of a hallway and more of a tunnel, rounded and nearly endless, strange to see something so other-wordly in the old-fashioned setting of the mansion.
With a flash of proudness, Charles didn't even bother to gesture as he directed his chair into the white abyss, and though slightly indignant, Tony followed obediently.
'You know,' Tony said absently, head cocked to the side and finger twitching as he walked beside the comforting whirr of the wheelchair, 'the way we're talking about my … talent, you'd think it was a nuclear bomb, not just making people feel a little down every now and then.'
Rolling to a stop, Charles looked up to Tony with great sadness and knowing. 'Oh Tony,' he sighed, unpatronising but softly, gently. 'There has never been a man, nor woman, in history who has ever done anything unmotivated by emotions. Not a single one.
'Our feelings are something we are born with … our nature. And we both know what power comes with being able to control nature.'
Charles rolled on and Tony dumbly followed, until the blank rooms morphed into windowed and bright labs furnished with all kinds of delicious equipment.
He was introduced to a blue, furry man called Hank McCoy of whose work Tony greatly admired both in science and politics, though he could hardly stir a warm greeting as he thought about what Charles had said.
No matter how much he'd joked about it, Tony had never been more glad that he'd never had the desire to become a super villain.